Disrupt You! by Jay Samit
Book Review by Bob Schoultz
All American Leadership
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Why this book: The All American Leadership team I work with designated Disrupt You! as a book to read and discuss as part of its on-going learning. Also Rob Nielsen, AAL’s CEO, told me that if I liked The Innovator’s DNA, I would love Disrupt You! I did like The Innovator’s DNA, as noted in my review of it, so I looked forward to reading Disrupt You!
My impressions: Disrupt You! reinforces many of the same points and insights as The Innovator’s DNA, but in a more personal style and with even more stories and examples. It is something of an autobiography of the author Jay Samit’s life and experience as a very successful disruptive innovator from the early 80s to the present day. Jay was one of the founders of Linkedin and was connected in some way to many of the technological innovations of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s that have changed the way we live. His book is his story, and reflects insights and anecdotes from one of the most dynamic change windows our economy has ever seen. Disrupt You! includes stories of many other successful entrepreneurs who either found, or created niches in the market for new and “disruptive” products or ideas, and thereby created great value for themselves, their investors and their customers.
The first 4 chapters in the book focus on personal growth and transformation. He describes the disruptive mindset – thinking laterally outside of conventional patterns – and how to anticipate and become part of creative disruption. The next section of the book is how to succeed as a disruptor – within a larger corporation, or within the larger market. He provides many examples of entrepreneurs building businesses by solving problems that others didn’t see as opportunities. One of his key messages throughout the book is that successful disruptors don’t complain about problems; what others see as a problem or annoyance, disruptors perceive as opportunities to find a better way – a solution – and in the process, create or possibly disrupt a whole market. He offers many fascinating examples.
The last several chapters of the book take a bigger-picture look, with titles such as: “Capital Revisited,” “Disruption in the era of the Crowd,” and “Disrupt the World.” His chapter “Disrupt the World” looks at education, human capital, energy and transportation among other fields, and shows how all these areas continue to be disrupted by creative entrepreneurs who envision new possibilities. Each section of the book offers something different – and all parts offer a multitude of examples that help make his points.
One of my favorite chapters was “Disruptors at Work and the Value of Intrapreneurship,” in which he offers examples and insights for how disruptive entrepreneurs can change an organization from within. He does note however that disruptive change agents must have ‘top cover’ to be effective, and must be willing to swim up stream, since most organizations are focused on efficiency rather than innovation, and mid-level managers hate disruption. “An intrapreneur disrupts from within the corporation rather than waiting for the company to be attacked by external forces.”
Another one of my favorite chapters is “Design: Disruption through Aesthetics.” When he was a young man Samit boldly emailed Bill Gates, who he had never met, asking for an introduction to David Geffen, one of the most powerful men in the music industry, so that he could pitch an idea to him. Remarkably, Gates provided this young stranger with the introduction he requested. When he finally met Geffen, Samit offered him 50% ownership of his company, for no money and at no risk in order to simply get his endorsing support and connections. Geffen accepted the offer and delivered on making the connections, which led to enormous success and profits for both of them. Samit’s point: Fortune favors the bold, never underestimate good luck, and “100% of nothing is nothing, but 50% of something can be worth millions.”
A constant drumbeat within Disrupt You! is that every market, every industry, the most well-established pillars of the economy are vulnerable to disruption, and WILL be disrupted. His message – better to be a disruptor than a disruptee. And Disrupt You! provides guidance and insight to help, if not to become a disruptor yourself, to at least better understand and appreciate the creative value of disruption.
Samit highlighted his key points throughout each chapter, making it easy for the reader to quickly gather nuggets. Some of my favorites:
“The trouble with most entrepreneurs is that they would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
“Insight and drive are all the skills you need. Everything else can be hired.”
“Problems are just businesses waiting for the right entrepreneur to unlock the value.”
“‘Speed to fail’ should be every entreprenuer’s motto. When you finally find the one idea that can’t be killed, go with it.”
On Intrapreneurship: “…the problem I faced back then wasn’t senior management’s not getting it, but rather my inability to communicate my vision in a context that they could comprehend. For all disruptors, this is the most important lesson anyone can learn”
“An average idea enthusiastically embraced will go further than a genius idea no one gets.”
“What I discovered was that the trick to disrupting from within an organization is you get what you want by giving the company what it thinks it wants.”
“The adage that the master appears when the student is ready to learn is only true if you make the effort to seek out advice.”
“If your idea is truly disruptive to a market, get used to hearing the word no.”
“The right passionate team is far more important to a start-up’s success, than the right idea.”
A couple of Downsides to the book: (1) In the structuring of the book, sometimes the chapters seem a bit artificial. There are so many stories and vignettes I sometimes had the feeling that many of them could have gone into any chapter. The content of the book doesn’t neatly fit into the chapters he created to structure it. (2) I don’t believe Samit gives adequate credit to the non-disruptors who are essential to run businesses, who make the economy function. Robert Solomon in his book A Better Way to Think About Business laments that American culture glorifies the entrepreneur often at the expense of, and certainly without giving adquate credit to the hard working people in the trenches who make a business run every day. I would have liked to have seen Samit give more acknowledgement to the support that disruptive entrepreneurs need to carry out their ingenious and creative ideas, from the many of us who may be less bold or creative.
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